This week my grandchildren were very excited about appearing in the nativity play at their village school. It occurred to me to wonder whether any of them knew what frankincense and myrrh actually are, so I gave some to my grandson who tells me that everyone was very excited to see the actual thing.
I know that when I was a child these things seemed to have mythical, almost magical, qualities and I had no idea what they were – nor did anyone tell me. Actually they are still widely used today.
Frankincense (Boswellia thurifera) and myrrh (Commiphora molmol) are both trees and the resins derived from them have important medicinal properties and were probably given to Jesus for that reason. They are both active against all sorts of infections and, in a time when there were no antibiotics, this would have been a very important and valuable gift.
In order to make them more palatable, they were often steeped in wine for use as liquid medicines, and they were also used in to embalm bodies after death. Frankincense is strongly anti-infective which is why the resin is burned in churches in order to purify the air, but in former less hygiene conscious times it would have had the additional benefit of masking the odour of unwashed bodies and clothes crowded together indoors.
Frankincense can be made into a variety of different medicines and creams and relieves all sorts of rheumatic conditions. I find it especially useful in my practice to help with the painful symptoms of gout but it can also be used in bronchitis and similar chest conditions. In former times it was used for leprosy.
Myrrh has similar uses to frankincense and, if anything, is more strongly anti-infective and anti-viral. It is probably one of the most widely used herbal antiseptics in the world and has even been proved to be active against the Staphylococus aureus infections which so plague our hospitals today. It is a very effective mouthwash too, though it does have the less desirable side effect of staining the teeth yellow.
I don’t think there is any need to go into why gold was so important – or maybe there is? If the banks hadn’t forgotten about having as much gold in their vaults as they have issued in paper money, we wouldn’t all be in the mess we are in today. But I guess that’s a bit too political for this website!